We Are What We Are (2010, Jorge Michel Grau)

Oh whoops, I thought I heard this was really good, but now I see all C-ratings from criticwire. Maybe I heard that about the gender-reversed remake by the Cold In July guy. Anyway, when a remake is available it’s usually a sure bet to watch the original first, and I thought a Jorge Michael Grau horror would be a nice tie-in with the Jorge Grau horror (no apparent relation) I just watched – a GRAUsome double-feature to go with SCOTtober.

A man dies at the mall, and his family pretty much falls apart, immediately losing their watch-selling business, starting fights and calling attention to themselves. Older Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro, the dad from Here Comes The Devil) is supposed to be the new leader, which violent, impulsive brother Julian resents. Dad used to bring fresh bodies to his cannibal wife and kids, and he apparently never trained the rest of them in the art of not being noticed, so the two boys perform some blatant attacks and end up bringing home a prostitute, but mom doesn’t approve of prostitutes and brings the body back to her vindictive friends. The movie also follows Let Sleeping Corpses Lie‘s lesson that cops are absolutely the worst – corrupt and terrible at their jobs.

A few interesting shots and good performances but mostly the movie is being purposely obscure and no fun, as if actng weird about its cannibal violence can turn it into Dogtooth. Played at Cannes alongside The Silent House, Sound of Noise and Bedevilled. Grau made Ingrown in the first ABCs of Death, has a new agoraphobia thriller called Big Sky.

Here Comes The Devil (2012, Adrian Garcia Bogliano)

Intense movie, and a good one to have watched right after Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Prologue of illicit lesbian sex followed by an intruder cutting off one girl’s fingers was confusing at first, but ties in at the end. A few scenes later a married couple is touching each other in the car while their kids go play on a cursed mountain (and end up disappearing for the night), and I’m getting the sense that this is a 1970’s/80’s-style horror that cruelly punishes sexual activity. Noel Murray in The Dissolve: “Ten minutes into the film, Bogliano has established a cruel syllogism, suggesting that growing up leads to sex, and that sex leads to all sorts of horrors.”

Field of fingers for Kyle McLachlan to find:

I forgot about this once the kids disappeared and returned as pod children. The kids are finally discovered dead in a cave on the cursed mountain by their mother, who pieces together that the kids she brought home last week are demons who cut class, levitate and have sex with each other, terrifying their babysitter. But mom makes the mistake of telling her impulsively violent husband, who shoots her in the cave, both of them shown leaving the mountain later as pod people.

Bloody parents:

Meanwhile there’s the finger-collecting madman from the start – he’s said to have also been possessed by the mountain. And there’s the local creepy voyeur who lives near the mountain. The parents wrongly suspect him of kidnapping and abusing the kids the night they disappeared, sneak into his trailer and murder him. So you’ve also got the local sheriff investigating this murder, and a gas-station guy who is basically The Harbinger from Cabin in the Woods.

Mom spots the voyeur:

Sheriff comes to visit – Bogliano likes these De Palma shots:

Murray again:

Here Comes The Devil, at its root, is a film about parental anxiety. Felix and Sol are watching their children mature before their eyes, knowing that soon they’ll be cut loose into a hazardous world full of predators and malevolence – and that when that happens, whatever’s keeping this family together will likely lose its hold. Here Comes The Devil is at its best when it’s at its least literal: when Bogliano confronts the inevitability of personal loss, whether it’s as a result of demonic possession or not.

Almost plays as a panicky sequel to Picnic at Hanging Rock. Violent dad was Francisco Barreiro of We Are What We Are and some Nicolas Pereda movies. Bogliano made Bigfoot in the first ABCs of Death, has a new one called Scherzo Diabolico.

Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994, Aki Kaurismaki)

Sequelitis. Tyrannical band manager Vladimir returns from the wilderness claiming to be Moses, leads the group to Coney Island then to Siberia, stealing the nose of the Statue of Liberty along the way. Andre Wilms, star of Le Havre, plays an American agent on their tail trying to return the nose. Cowritten by two band members and featuring much of the gang from the first movie plus a Jarmusch cameo. Vladimir died of a heart attack the next year, so no more sequels, but there’s a concert film called Total Balalaika Show, which Hulu wouldn’t let me watch.

Silent Light (2007, Carlos Reygadas)

Deliberately-paced movie that aims hard for transcendence, opening and closing with real-time sunrise/sunset scenes (beautiful, with a Last Days-paced creeping camera). Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope: “It’s a staggering shot, marked not only by duration but by the howling of unseen animals, a collective primal roar that disturbs the scene’s serenity.”

I wish the person introducing at the High hadn’t named the film’s greatest influence (Ordet) because then I spent those long, slow shots (but not static shots – one memorable spinning scene tracks Johan’s truck driving in circles) wondering when someone would die and be resurrected. That would be sad Johan’s even-sadder wife Esther, who dies of a broken heart during a rainstorm. I was surprised that it’s Johan’s affair Marianne who touches Esther and summons her back to life.

Jay Kuehner:

However Silent Light eschews the kinetics of narrative, it is by conception not without dramatic stakes. Johan’s tear-streaked face communicates a sense of pain only in the knowledge that his newfound love could harn his wife and alienate his family, consequences which Reygadas leaves unexplored. Is this a result of the director’s immanent design? If so, it’s teasingly realized in a gorgeous sequence featuring Johan and family bathing in a natural pool, the camera adhering to the children’s simple gestures as if nothing more important existed to them outside the moment – and likewise to the film outside the frame. It’s a scene of self-succifiency that produces meaning only in context with others, which bestow upon its small familial utopia a threat of impending loss. That’s enough to make a grown man cry.

El Sicario Room 164 (2010, Gianfranco Rosi)

Similar to Collapse, in that both are documentaries set in a room where a single subject is speaking to the camera, and both are completely terrifying. Collapse left me aimlessly afraid of the end of the world, this one offers a clear action item: Never go to Mexico.

A former “sicario” (drug cartel enforcer) who has escaped with his family tells about his youth (driving cars full of drugs over the border before he was even old enough to drive), training (at the police academy, where 25% of graduates are already working for the cartels) and 20-year career as a kidnapper, torturer and murderer at the behest of an unworthy man, as the now church-going ex-sicario realizes. The drug business basically runs the government, police, and even military, if this guy is to be believed. Never go to Mexico.

M. Peranson:

More so than Police, Adjective, the film that came to mind when watching El Sicario is the still relevant Chambre 666, wherein Wim Wenders set up a stationary camera in Room 666 of the Hotel Martinez during the 1982 Cannes film festival and asked filmmakers like Godard, Fassbinder, Herzog and Spielberg the question: “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?” It’s no coincidence that the directors are framed, like the sicario often is, next to a television set.

Whores’ Glory (2011, Michael Glawogger)

Right after I read about his trilogy, a Glawogger film opens in my neighborhood, so the wife and I went on a date to see his whore movie. There are interviews with the participants, but mostly it’s an immersive thing, you figure out how the whoring works in each region by fly-on-the-walling it. But M.G.’s great innovation is to produce a verite/interview doc with killer camerawork and sound design. You sometimes get curious framing or a decent music score in a doc, but usually the serious documentarian’s stylistic presence is felt through editing. Not anymore, as the weird vibes of CocoRosie swirl through a surprisingly elegant movie about prostitutes in increasingly desperate conditions.

First Thailand: the girls have home lives and ideas about what they’d like to do post-prostitution. Their brothel advertises, accepts credit cards and employs a woman who acts like a den mother. Then Bangladesh, a sharp step down in living conditions, as kids are sold to live and work in a complex they’ll never afford to leave. Finally Mexico, where it’s every girl for herself, with no supervision, a desperate, dangerous-seeming atmosphere, and enough of a who-gives-a-fuck attitude that the filmmaker is allowed inside to watch some whoring in action: sadness for everyone involved.

Katy and I discussed the movie for like ninety minutes, but that was a month ago, so I cannot provide a summary.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Thriving on contradiction and observational curiosity as usual, Glawogger still resolutely rejects social cause-pandering, but scratches for something deeper by contrasting the rituals of love (for sale) in three different cultures, religions and economies: a look not just at prostitution, but the relationships between men and women in contemporary society that yields telling and ambivalent insights.

Mansion of Madness (1973, Juan Lopez Moctezuma)

White-hatted Gaston is visiting Dr. Maillard’s psychiatric hospital when they’re met at the gate by a loony-acting guard, and I suddenly realized this was based on the same Poe story as Svankmajer’s Sileni, and is going to suffer in comparison. Gaston is welcomed into the asylum, led by the swirly-robed man on the DVD cover, while his red-hatted friend (Martin LaSalle, star of Pickpocket) is attacked in the woods and his woman raped. It just isn’t a bad 1970’s movie unless a woman gets raped.

The guy from the DVD cover:

The girl from Alucarda’s DVD cover – what’s she doing here?

The movie’s in English, which the actors are having trouble getting used to – some words are pronounced differently each time they’re spoken. Gaston’s straight Rod Serling line delivery conflicts badly with Maillard’s strangely-accented rapid-fire drama. It wants to look like Vadim’s Spirits of the Dead segment with the careful posing of actors and scenery before the camera. One of those euro-art films, but from Mexico. Moctezuma also made the Satan-in-a-convent movie Alucarda, which I saw but can’t much remember.

White hat and red hat:


This one is more masculine than Sileni, less interested in the daughter/prisoner character Eugenie than in Gaston and Maillard (Claudio Brook – Simon of the Desert himself), but really it doesn’t seem too interested in any of them. There are some half-hearted pursuits and mysteries, and even the tarred/feathered “real doctors” in the basement scenes have little explanation (and nothing like the terribly doomed finale of Svankmajer’s version). The “hero” never does a thing; the prisoners escape on their own. It’s a series of crazy scenes, signifying nothing.

Claudio having an epic shout:

Eugenie’s revenge:

Symbol (2009, Hitoshi Matsumoto)

This was everything I hoped it’d be when I heard the vague plot outline. Japanese man wearing loud pajamas wakes up in an all-white room covered in switches. Whenever he presses a switch, something new appears in the room. Meanwhile a Mexican wrestler named Escargot Man prepares for a match. How will these two stories come together?

It gets weirder, of course. The switches are angel penises. The man gets a ton of useless stuff, plus sushi (but no soy sauce). He’s somewhat frustrating to my organized mind because he doesn’t try every switch or hit them in any organized manner. But the stakes are raised when he finds a floor switch that opens a door out of the room – just for a few seconds.

Maybe my favorite part: he has a large pot, and unlimited sushi, so he fills the pot with sushi to weigh down the switch. But it’s too full to lift. So he laboriously starts pulling bits of sushi back out of the pot with chopsticks, when he hits a button that causes an African man to jog into the pot, breaking it in half.

More intricate escape attempts. He finds the exit door has a combination lock (the combo is written on the African man’s head) and a key lock. The key appears on a timer, as does a rope from the sky, so there’s a plan involving swinging and grabbing and running. The man doesn’t talk out his ideas – instead we get wonderful comic-book montages as he envisions what he’s going to do next.

But sometimes he hits the wrong switch and this happens.

Plan is carried out, but he’s stuck. The door is unlocked, without enough room to open, and he can’t get back into the main room. Passage of time marked by red sushi turning brown. He finds a sliding panel and a new room of switches – this time when he hits them, things happen in the world outside that he’s not aware of. Frustrated, he flicks one switch over and over – one that causes the Mexican wrestler’s neck to extend and deliver a knockout headbutt to whoever’s closest.

The man ascends a tower of penis switches… to the final room.

Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro)

In 1536, the official watchmaker to the viceroy flees the Inquisition and lands in Vera Cruz, Mexico. In 1937 a vault collapses, killing the watchmaker. How he lived for 400+ years becomes the obsession of rich, dying businessman Claudio Brook (Simon of the Desert himself). When his enforcer son Ron Perlman discovers evidence that the watchmaker’s Cronos Device (which turns the user into a kind of vampire/addict: see also The Addiction, released two years later) has turned up in an antiques shop, he tries to acquire it from its accidentally-immortal new owner.

Two dying men, sort of:

Think I watched this in Paul Young’s after-hours screening series at Tech, but I must’ve slept through part of it, since it seemed mostly unfamiliar. A quality flick – suppose it qualifies as horror, but it doesn’t behave quite the way a horror movie is supposed to, has a classic genre sensibility (horror genre with action/revenge/gangster elements) but marches to its own beat. For instance, the old man’s granddaughter Aurora isn’t a spooky ghost child nor a victim, but a witness/participant, a representative of the spectator with more personality than is usually allowed.

Perlman, before City of Lost Children:

Federico Lupi, also in The Devil’s Backbone, is antique dealer Jesus Gris, who has a run-in with Ron Perlman after finding and using the device. Perlman arranges a car crash and attends the cremation of Gris’s coffin – but Gris has escaped from it just in time. After getting himself together he sneaks into the businessman’s office seeking answers about his condition (with Aurora accidentally in tow, a glowstick between her teeth). The businessman is killed, and a rooftop fight between Gris and Perlman leaves them both dead-ish, but Gris is revived by the device, which he then smashes, realizing he’s being tempted to drink Aurora’s blood. He goes home and presumably starves to death in bed surrounded by his family, a strangely beautiful portrayal of a moral vampire.